Increasingly, golf is lost in the small print
Thirty summers have now passed since I walked into a
media centre for the first time as a golf correspondent
to attend the St Mellion Tournament Players
Championship in lovely Cornwall.
Renton Laidlaw, then as now a kindly soul, took time
out from his deadline duties on the London Evening
Standard to introduce me to everyone.
There were a lot of introductions to make. There were correspondents
representing every major newspaper in Scotland,
for example. With the exception of the Financial Times, every
national daily and Sunday newspaper based in London had
also despatched its golf correspondent to the West Country.
The provincials had a healthy presence as well, including the
Birmingham Post, whom I was representing.
And so it was that I joined a circuit that trooped up and
down the land during the summer months. In 1983 there
were 12 tournaments in England and Wales. We brought news
of our parishioners as we liked to think of them, and that is
how it remained for the best part of 20 years.
Now? The tournaments are down to two which, funnily
enough, mirrors exactly the number of full-time golf correspondents
presently employed by newspapers in these isles.
There’s me, now working for the Daily Mail; and James
Corrigan, who works for the Daily Telegraph. Perhaps the last
of us standing – probably him, since he’s ten years younger –
will come up with a book and call it Last Writes.
You don’t have to be a Fleet Street nostalgia merchant to be
saddened by this state of affairs. The shrinkage of golf tournaments
in this country has seen the sport slip down the
newspaper priority list for a number of reasons, and all of
them add up to being bad for golf. Whether it’s for budgetary
reasons – few papers, in these cash-strapped times, can afford
to send journalists to cover regular tournaments in places like
China or America – or the fact it’s easier to dismiss events in
far-flung places rather than on your doorstep, it’s a fact that
column inches devoted to the sport have shrunk dramatically.
There are no winners when there is less publicity.
And yet the audience is still out there. In a recent survey of
over 5,000 golfers, only the amount of golf coverage in the
Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph scored even satisfactory
To be fair to most journals, the decline of the golf correspondent
has been symptomatic of the decline of newspapers
themselves. The Scottish newspaper industry is in a desperate
battle to stay alive, and so it’s not surprising that, even in the
land where the game began, golf correspondents are doubling
up as football or rugby writers and being sent hardly anywhere
but the odd major.
But, at the risk of indulging in the usually best-avoided
exercise of dog eat dog, some of the decisions taken stray
into the realms of the ridiculous.
How do you excuse the regrettable actions of a group as
well-funded and with such a rich heritage of golf writing as
The Times and Sunday Times? One hundred years ago,
Bernard Darwin of The Times was despatched by the owner of
the paper no less, to cover a United States Open that would
be won by Francis Ouimet and inspire books and films and be
called The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Now, barely credibly, neither paper has a golf correspondent.
Yes, one month after Justin Rose became the first
British winner of the United States Open in 43 years, at a time
when we have more world-class players than for at least a
generation, Peter Dixon, my estimable colleague at The Times,
was shown the door and the post made redundant. Are we
really supposed to believe we’re living in a less prosperous
age than a century ago?
And yet I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised given the
pathetic manner in which its sister paper has treated the
sport for years. Once they employed a man called Dudley
Doust, who would talk to everybody and make continuous
phone calls to all parts of the globe in pursuit of a fresh
angle. Contrast that to the last few seasons, where coverage in
the Sunday Times has consisted almost entirely of a bloke sitting
in front of a television watching golf on Sky and writing a
commentary piece about it.
Some of my most valued colleagues, like Mark Garrod, longtime
golf correspondent for the Press Association and David
Smith of the Evening Standard opted to walk away than continue
to operate like that.
Let’s hope The Times, at least, comes to its senses. After all,
the Daily Telegraph went through a bizarre phase a few years
ago, giving the game little coverage, only to be reminded by
its readers that, actually, they are great lovers of the sport.
As chairman of the Association of Golf Writers, I sense a
great will among bodies like the European Tour, the Royal and
Ancient Golf Club, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America for
us to survive and carry on doing our jobs.
But it’s hard to be optimistic. The Association of Golf
Writers (AGA) is 75 years old this year and, I regret to say,
we’re showing our age.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine